Chinese SOEs are making big moves to resume production in ASEAN after pandemic
On the morning of July 3, 2020, the groundbreaking ceremony for the Vientiane station of the China-Laos Railway (CLR) was held in the Lao capital in a warm atmosphere despite light drizzle. More than 200 construction staff and 20 pieces of heavy machinery marked with the logo of China Railway Construction Group (CRCG) were lined up at the event site. Xiao Qianwen, general manager of the Laos-China Railway Co., Ltd., a Vientiane-based joint venture in charge of the railway’s construction and operation, gave the command to commence construction of the widely-anticipated station building.
The CLR runs from Kunming, China, all the way to the capital of Laos, with 422.4 kilometers within Laos’ borders. The largest among 20 new stations along the rail line, the Vientiane station will be able to accommodate 2,500 passengers in a construction area of 14,543 square meters. Themed “China-Laos Friendship in the City of Sandalwood”, the people-centric and environmentally friendly design employs simple, integrated and modern styles and cultural and national elements from both countries.
In recent months, construction of the CRL has forged ahead amid the COVID-19 pandemic and completed numerous key projects including four tunnels, the first leg of track construction, the first communication tower, and main beam connection for a super bridge.
Using Chinese technical standards and equipment, the CLR is Laos’ first standard-gauge railway and China’s first overseas railway project primarily funded and built by Chinese companies and connected to China’s railway network since the Belt and Road Initiative was proposed. When completed at the end of 2021 as scheduled, the rail project will help Laos achieve its ambition of transforming from a landlocked to a land-linked country and promote national economic development.
In the meanwhile, construction of the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway in Indonesia also is moving full speed ahead. At the construction site of Tunnel No. 10, 30 kilometers west of Bandung, trucks growled, machinery roared, and workers grimaced while excavating the tunnel face and binding steel bars.
Heavy rainfall during this year’s wet season coupled with the raging pandemic has led to an increased workload for the rail project. To cope with the pressure, the project management department arranged a special task force. According to Xiao Songxin, head of the project contractors’ consortium, 2020 is a critical year for construction of roads, bridges, and tunnels. So far, 96 percent of the land needed for the high-speed rail has been secured, 50 percent of roadbed and tunnel projects have finished, and 30 percent of bridges have been completed. The Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway project is now advancing smoothly while epidemic prevention and control work continues. More than 10,000 staff are working at 229 project sites along the line.
To ensure continuing progress of crucial projects, a series of emergency response and personnel management measures were implemented after the COVID-19 outbreak in Indonesia including placement of a public health officer at each project site, regular temperature checks, social distancing, and sufficient reserves of personal protective equipment and daily supplies. Under normalized epidemic prevention and control, contractors of the high-speed rail have made every effort to follow safety and health protection guidelines of both China and Indonesia, help workers return to work, and accelerate import of materials and equipment to facilitate steady progress during the upcoming dry season, the optimal period to perform construction work.
From energy facilities to transportation infrastructure, Chinese state-owned construction enterprises have continued working during the pandemic. Their joint endeavors have helped ensure steady advancement and satisfactory performance to meet the contract terms of their major projects in Southeast Asia.
On April 13, Indonesia’s Jatigede dam built by Power Construction Corporation of China (POWERCHINA) succeeded in impounding water to an elevation of 260 meters, a crucial step towards full operation that will benefit 4.8 million local people. The Chico River Pump Irrigation Project constructed by China CAMC Engineering Co., Ltd. in the Philippines resumed production in early May and fulfilled 47 percent of the total contract value by the end of the month, two percentage points ahead of schedule. On June 14, Sinohydro Bureau 10 Co., Ltd. completed drilling of the surge shaft for the Nam Ngum 3 hydropower station project in Laos 18 days ahead of schedule.
As the epidemic was gradually subsiding in Southeast Asian countries, Chinese companies began to deliver more and more encouraging results in project construction.
“From the day after Chinese New Year to now, our overseas staff have maintained their posts on three fronts: supporting domestic epidemic containment, anti-epidemic campaign in host countries, and resumption of production,” declared Peng Dapeng, deputy head of Overseas Business Division of China Communications Construction Company (CCCC).
As early as January 28, the CCCC established an overseas joint prevention and control mechanism to facilitate communication through regular online meetings and daily reports. The mechanism was later improved and expanded from regional-level coordination to a national-level system. A special emergency response plan was also developed to provide guidance for overseas project sites and offices on protecting employees’ safety and health. During the early stages of the epidemic outbreak, about 40 percent of the company’s 1,000-plus overseas projects were completely or partially disrupted. Now, many have resumed construction after implementing multiple containment measures to keep staff safe.
In Cambodia, construction of the Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville expressway has been proceeding smoothly. An important Belt and Road project funded and constructed by China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), the country’s first expressway will significantly cut travel time from its capital to the southwestern port city of Sihanoukville and help drive economic development. “Continuing construction while containing the epidemic has been the top priority on every daily agenda,” said Xu Song, one of 280 Chinese and Cambodian employees of the project’s fourth management department. Specific epidemic prevention and control measures have been employed at the project site including closed-off management, personnel movement control, temperature checks twice a day, disinfection of office and living areas twice a day, wearing of masks in public space, and individual dining.
In addition to safeguarding employees’ safety and health, overseas branches of Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs) have also effectively fulfilled corporate social responsibility. To help people in host countries cope with the epidemic, they provided locals around the project sites with handbooks in the local language on how COVID-19 spreads and how to protect themselves against the dangerous disease.
On March 2, the Bengkulu Coal-fired Power Plant, built and run by POWERCHINA, received its first electricity bill payment from Indonesian state-owned power utility Perusahaan Listrik Negara. The transfer signified that all procedures for charging electricity rates were completed and that the plant began generating revenue. The first unit of the plant achieved grid-connected power generation last November.
“We strive to produce satisfactory results during this tough test,” stressed Sheng Yuming, chairman of POWERCHINA Resources, the overseas investment arm of the energy giant. He noted that strict movement control measures have been introduced and a psychological intervention mechanism established to provide counseling service for company personnel.
Stepping up Production
As important links of global industrial supply chains, Chinese SOEs have invested heavily in rebooting construction work on overseas projects to keep them on schedule.
With movement controls relaxed in Laos, State Grid Corporation of China was permitted to resume the construction of 500-kilovolt and 230-kilovolt power transmission lines in Vientiane in early May. Various work at the construction site such as steel bar binding, formwork installation, concrete casting and maintenance, and removal of formwork are now progressing steadily. “Everything has been going smoothly since work restarted,” reported site manager Ding Zheng. “We have to speed up to get back on schedule.”
Considered a future monument to China-Philippines friendship, work on two bridges over the Pasig River built by the CRBC also resumed in early May. “Before returning to work, local employees were required to self-quarantine at home for 14 days and provide proof of good health,” said project manager Yuan Xiaocong. “They were then transported to construction sites by chartered bus and put in another 14-day quarantine until they pass a COVID-19 test.” Alongside closed-off management and regular disinfection at the project sites, workers were also assigned staggered shifts and forbidden from gathering.
The Chico River Pump Irrigation Project, another Chinese-contracted infrastructure project in the Philippines, also reopened in early May after three months of suspension. The project has so far resumed 90 percent capacity, and 80 percent of construction staff have returned including nearly 400 Filipino employees, none of whom have contracted the disease. During a video conference on June 23, Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian reinforced expectations for the project from three aspects: sound management to ensure personnel safety, equal treatment of Chinese and local employees in terms of epidemic prevention and control, and an optimized project plan to facilitate early completion.
By the end of May, nearly 90 percent of the pump house structure was constructed, 85 percent of the 30-kilometer-long 69-kilovolt transmission line was erected, and the Tunnel No. 1 was finished ahead of schedule. The pump house is expected to be roofed by the end of September and the entire project completed by the end of 2021. When the pump station begins operation, the whole irrigation system will be able to supply enough water to irrigate 8,700 hectares of farmland in Cagayan and Kalinga provinces, which will help improve farming and increase crop yields, benefiting 4,350 rural households. The project will also create ample job opportunities for local communities.
Confronted by the daunting task of continuing construction work on overseas projects amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Chinese SOEs have demonstrated perseverance and strong social responsibility in host countries while making outstanding contributions to the Belt and Road Initiative.